Most weeks we take a peek at recent albums or sheet music releases. Here are three of the CDs that have come into the Classical Guitar office recently.
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Some of the albums we talk about online will be reviewed in the magazine, some not. But we want to at least mention most of them here. You can listen to some of these on various of streaming services, but we always encourage you to support the artists by actually buying anything you like! Obviously we cannot research and report every outlet or online business where these albums are sold, so check your favorite places that sell CDs and downloads!
To see links to all of our online album listings/reviews, click here.
Diabolus in cithara
Not to be confused with either the popular Mexico City–based, violin-dominated trio of the same name, nor the Spanish piano-clarinet-cello Trio Alborada, this French guitar trio has been around for about a dozen years, and their latest release is a fantastic album of music by French composers; I can’t stop playing it! The trio consists of Etienne Candela, Mathieu Dutriat, and Jérôme Grzybeck—all are established players in France with interests outside the trio that range from lute music (Candela) to Piazzolla (Grzybeck) and, judging from the diverse selections on this album, lots more.
Though, as I said, the composers on the album are French, there are many other influences on this album: Spanish in the case of the two parts of Bizet’s Carmen Suite (not usually one of my favorites, quite honestly, but I appreciate the trio didn’t choose the most famous movements); and Brazilian with Milhaud’s Brazileira, from Scaramouche. I should add that my favorite piece on the whole album, Roland Dyens’ O trio magico—which I have listened to half a dozen times or more, and which I considered perhaps the most classically “French”-sounding piece in the program—was, l learned when I finally read the liner notes, dedicated by Dyens to the Brazilian musician Pixinguinha, so maybe it has Brazil in it, too.
There’s a beautiful trio reading of Debussy’s positively luminescent piano masterpiece Clair de lune from his Suite Bergamasque, effectively paired here with another, quite contrasting piece from that larger work, Passepied. (On the CD packaging, the two titles are incorrectly reversed.) Another highlight is by one of Dubussy’s contemporaries, Camille Saint-Saëns, whose fascinating (and morbid!) orchestral work from 1874, Danse Macabre, is given a spirited an imaginative workout by the trio. Jean-Marie Leclair’s Ouverture takes trio back to the mid-18th century for a fine piece originally written for two violins and basso continuo, and the concluding Rhûn, a contemporary work by Bernard Piris, was inspired by the literary world of Tolkein, and does have a magical quality in parts.
I hope this album gets the sort of broad release it deserves, making its way to streaming services and distribution outside of France, because it’s a good one!
From Carmen: Aragonaise, Séguédille (Bizet); Ouverture Op. 13, No. 3 (Leclair); O trio magico (Dyens); From Suite Bergamasque: Passepied, Clair de lune, (Debussy); Danse Macabre (Saint-Saëns); From Scaramouche: Brazileira (Milhaud); Rhûn (Piris)
A far as I can tell at the moment, the only place to hear a handful extracts and purchase the album is through the Triton website. I’ll update that if any new information about it’s availability come in.
Ancient Greece—Musical Inspirations
Rody van Gemert (with Assi Karttunen, harpsichord)
One might not expect to find a multi-movement piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel sitting in the middle of an album by a Dutch guitarist—Rody van Gemert—called Ancient Greece. Yet Five Greek Songs does have its lineage in Greek folk tunes Ravel turned into a mesmerizing piano work at the beginning of the 20th century; it is recast here for guitar and harpsichord by British composer Graham Lynch, whose hand is all over this album: In addition to that marvelous arranging work, Lynch has four of his own pieces scattered throughout the program, three of them inspired by the story of Daphne and Apollo, and Three Aegean Pieces sandwiches a Greek dance in between movements “in the manner of” Ravel and Poulenc. In the interesting and illuminating liner notes, Lynch says that, like Ravel, “I am not trying to relate to a historical Greece, but to the vivid ancient Greece of my imagination.”
Lynch’s Sing, Memory (a Daphne/Apollo piece) is one of the most interesting of the guitar-harpsichord works, moving easily from stark, modern passages to lyrical flights. Finnish harpsichordist Assi Karttunen’s lines work really well with van Gemert’s guitar on all the tracks on which she appears. Sheltered lad that I’ve been, I don’t think I’d ever heard guitar and harpsichord together; it turns out to be a natural pairing—two “plucked” instruments with some sonic similarities, but enough differences to make the blend interesting and surprisingly rich. Listen to the hypnotic layering of the two instruments in the last third of Matthew Whittall’s The Wine-dark sea IV; it sounds a bit like Steve Reich to me; very cool. Another interesting and slightly bizarre work is Harry Partch’s Archytas’ Enharmonic, originally written for marimba and a 44-string, zither-like Parch creation called a Harmonic Canon—apparently the piece was based on a scale commonly used in ancient Greece.
If you’re looking for something different and challenging, but still satisfying on so many levels, check out this album.
Tuning: Ptolemy’s even diatonic (Seikilos Epitaph); Sing, Memory (Lynch); Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales (Partch); Three Aegean Pieces (Lynch); Five Greek Songs (Ravel); First Delphic Hymn to Apollo (Athenios son of Athenios, arr. Lynch); The Wine-dark sea IV (Whittall); Daphne Prelude (Lynch); Tuning: Archytas diatonic (Seikilos Epitaph)
Les Tendres Plaintes: Works by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Canadian guitarist Sylvie Proulx’s latest is devoted entirely to works by the prolific French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) who is perhaps best known for the operas and stage works he wrote later in life, but is also widely admired for his harpsichord works, a number of which have found their way into the classical-guitar world through the years. Not surprisingly, Segovia was the first modern guitarist to make a Rameau transcription (in 1939; he also recorded Menuets 1 & 2 in 1944 and ’54), and Proulx dispatches that nicely here. She also takes on transcriptions from John Duarte, Jean François Delcamp, Vernacio Garcia Velasco, and Stephane Nogrette—as well as making three of her own fine contributions to the growing canon of Rameau guitar transcriptions, including the moody title track (which translates as “The Tender Complaints”) and the jaunty leadoff piece, La Triomphante.
Like so many Baroque keyboard works (Rameau was a contemporary of both Bach and Couperin), many of these pieces were originally written as “dance” numbers, and Proulx consistently shows she is up to the task of keeping tempos steady and the counterpoint clear and uncluttered. There are fluttering ornaments galore, mimicking the filigrees so common in harpsichord music, and though the guitar does not have the range of a harpsichord, liner notes-writer Paul F. Rice accurately points out, the guitar “is capable of of far more expressive devices than can be reproduced on the harpsichord. These include, vibrato, rapidly changing dynamics, different levels of accentuation, and textural contrast.” (Listen below to the multiplicity of tempo and dynamic shifts in Proulx’s own transcription of Gavotte avec les Doubles de la Gavotte for an illustration of this.) As a result there is a warmth and expressiveness to these performances that actually exceeds harpsichord renderings of the same pieces. Proulx ably demonstrates what a great match Rameau and the guitar are!
La Triomphante; Rigaudons 1, 2 & Double; Menuets 1 & 2; La Véntienne; Le Rappel des Oiseaux; Les Tourbiillons; Les Tendres Plantes; L’Indifferente; Sarabandes 1 & 2; La Boiteuse; Les Tricotets; Les Sauvages; Le Lardon; Gavotte avec les Doubles de la Gavotte; Menuet en Rondeau